PORTLAND, Ore. – A homeless activist presented a plan Wednesday to City Council aimed at bringing more people under a roof, including setting up a relief camp.
"After Katrina I had the opportunity to work alongside Americorp," Michael Withy told city commissioners. "They set up relief camps in a very professional way with federally funded volunteers. We believe a relief camp or several satellite relief camps might be a good option this winter."
Portland city leaders adopted a plan nearly a decade ago to end homelessness. With less than two years to go, it is a long way from its goal.
Thousands of people are still sleeping on the streets at night, though the numbers are improving. In 2005, a one-night count found 2,300 people sleeping on the streets of Portland. This year's one-night count found about 1,900. Many of the homeless people are nomadic, moving from one part of the city to another.
In July, police cleared out the homeless campers from in front of City Hall, but those people have just moved to other parts of the downtown area.
Withy, a well-known homeless activist and Occupy Portland activist, told commissioners the city is missing the bigger issue.
"None of this is going to work unless we work on the issue," he said. "The core issues of homelessness and for every person that's out there that's homeless, there is an issue. So it's going to be extremely complicated. That's the complicated part of homelessness."
He presented what he called a Six-Point Plan to End Homelessness. The relief camps would be use some select city parks as homeless camps in the winter months.
Withy's proposal came on the day that homeless campers are back in Terry Schrunk Park, which is federal property, and it's unclear what will happen there from this point forward.
Calls to the Federal Protective Service go to a public affairs person in Washington, D.C. who isn't familiar with the situation.
Someone at the General Services Administration, the federal agency that owns the park, could only point a reporter toward the rules and regulations for the park. Those rules and regulations say anyone setting up a structure needs to be protesting something and needs to have a sign.
Plenty of tents set up in the park Wednesday didn't have signs next to them. Homeless campers KATU spoke with said they are demonstrating for the right to sleep and haven't gotten much grief from the feds.
"It's human rights – pretty much like civil human rights," said homeless camper Sammi Wilson. "I mean, people should be able to sleep wherever they feel like. I mean, if you were homeless, where would you go?"
Wilson's been camping downtown for about a month and said she hasn't heard about the signage rule.
Shortly after Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz's decision to fence nearby Chapman Park, many of the homeless campers moved next door to Terry Schrunk Plaza.
She said Wednesday that since the plaza is federal property, "I'm not involved in that … Commissioner (Dan) Saltzman is the housing commissioner. You'd need to ask the mayor about Terry Schrunk Plaza."
Saltzman's chief of staff told KATU they've worked with nonprofits to try and get homeless people, like the ones in the plaza, services and into shelters like Bud Clark Commons. But they've been refusing those services in many instances.
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